by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Pakistan slotted in a formidable Group A of the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship, which will begin on September 6 in Kathmandu, Nepal, while the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee’s (NC) team of coaches and consultants concluded the trials to build the team on Friday.
Pakistan’s women’s team will be participating in an international event after eight long years. They last played in November 2014, which was a SAFF Championship event too.
The PFF NC is rebuilding the team from scratch.
The trials took place in Lahore, Islamabad and finally in Karachi on July 29, where according to administrative officer Qibtia Jamshaid, around 70 girls showed up to display their talent at the recommendation of the national coaches from their clubs, while 30 girls turned up from Karachi.
“The trials are done for all three venues and around 70 girls showed up altogether,” Jamshaid told The Express Tribune. “Now the coaches will collect data from each of the trials to decide on the 35 players that will be in the national camp, the details of which will be announced in two to three days.”
The PFF NC coaching team already issued a provisional list of 61 players who stood out in the National Women’s Championship in 2021 and prior.
The trials were originally chalked out to begin on July 24 with Karachi, but they were postponed to a later date for the venue due to the torrential rains in the city.
This is the first tournament to be on the calendar of the PFF NC after its resumption from an almost 15-month suspension from FIFA.
However, to make the trials more inclusive and update on the existing pool of players the NC team of coaches and consultants conducted trials in case any of the players from provisional list are not able to join and also to give a fair chance to any deserving new entrants.
Up against tough competitors
PFF NC coaching consultant and Pakistan’s only Asian Football Confederation (AFC) certified professional coach Shehzad Anwar believes that the group in SAFF championship will be tough.
“The draws came yesterday and we are placed with India, Bangladesh and the Maldives,” Anwar explained. “Indian women’s football has shown good progress. They will be hosting the U17 women’s World Cup in October, then their U23 team are also playing in Europe, while their senior team is also in top form. On the other hand, Bangladesh has had the continuity and their team is strong too, so there will be tough competition.”
The Group B in Saff Championship has Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
When asked what has been the standard of players at the trials, Anwar believes that one month of camp will not be enough as Pakistani girls have been suffering for too long due to inactivity and lack of football events.
“We have closely observed the players from the trials at all the three venues and we have accessed the kind of training they need. The standard is what one can expect from a country that did not have football for women for eight years. The men still got to play the tournaments, there are many unofficial tournaments that take place domestically, but for women, there are none in particular, and it shows,” said Anwar.
Where there is potential there is a way
The optimism lies in the future, and Anwar believes in the players’ potential.
“There is a lot of potential in our players, and of course one month to prepare a team for an international event is not enough. We’ll try our best to have a good representation of the country, and this is just the first step after a very long period of no football for women,” said Anwar.
From 2015 till June 2022, the PFF were suspended by the FIFA twice due to third-party interference, and the power struggle between the quarreling officials who wanted to stay in the office led to a long and painful halt of football activities on every level.
The PFF NC said in a press release on July 29 that they are working towards holding the PFF elections with transparency and in order for the clubs and players to register they are using FIFA Connect Program.
To make the process more accessible they are also preparing to launch the program’s Urdu version which is in the final stages of preparation. The club registration will begin in August.